Contained is S. L. Harpel’s debut novel. It is a young adult, science-fiction tale built around a young girl, Ella, who finds herself torn between two worlds. Ella was born in the Outskirts, the barren wasteland that covers most of the planet after man has destroyed it with biological weapons. While still a small child, she is chosen by a wealthy couple and taken into one of the Communities. There are nine Communities and each is dome-protected and full of life and abundance, but very few humans have the chance to live in one.
Ella faces a difficult choice because she wants to be loyal to her sister, Beaunca, who stayed behind in the Outskirts. However, there are many, many good things to life in the Community, from good food to advanced medical care, and Ella starts to be able to see the world from two points of view.
Contained is told from Ella’s first-person point of view. The writing style allows you to feel what Ella feels and do some self-examination as you decide which choices you might make in a similar situation. The book is reminiscent of the time when social standing and civil liberties were determined on where you were born. Had she not been chosen, Ella would not have the options now before her. She must choose to support the Community, find a way to elevate the lower classes, or find a positive middle-ground between the two.
The dystopian nature of the book is a possible future that is all too likely. Seeing a glimpse of how the world could evolve if we continue to destroy the planet was both fascinating and chilling.
What I Liked
Contained has a fast pace with rich characters. Since it is told from the first-person perspective, you feel what Ella feels as she faces each choice and decision. Ella faces a struggle with not only the world she has been forced to live in but a secret that she is forced to keep hidden inside. The story does a good job of not getting bogged down in unnecessary details and tells you what you need to know when you need to know it.
The character development was also well done. Each main character is a solid and fully fleshed out individual. Well not too much time is spent describing each character, you are given enough to see the whole person and their personality.
Where I Struggled
The only thing I had a hard time with in Contained was the abundance of characters. So many characters were described and named that I had a hard time keeping them all straight. At times, I was a little confused as to whether I really needed to know about a character or not. The plethora of characters introduced is the only reason I did not give this book a five-star review. That said, for the most part, the story sticks to the important characters and you learn who they are and what’s important about them. This minor negative did not detract from the excellent storytelling.
To me, Contained was a quick read that I had a hard time putting down. I was drawn in from the first few lines and am looking forward to reading Book Two. There were a few minor imperfections in the book, but none so much as to interfere with your reading enjoyment. The only reason I am not giving this book a five-star review is that I got confused more than a few times due to the sheer number of characters that are introduced and developed.
In conclusion, if you like dystopian science fiction and/or young adult literature, you will enjoy Contained. The book builds believable worlds that draw you in, and you find yourself invested as to which world or social group will or should prosper. There is definitely plenty of substance for this series to go on, possible through many more books. I highly recommend this book.
Final rating: 4.9/5.0 Stars
Learn more about S. L. Harpel is her author interview.